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Elgin advances requirements for fire sprinklers with building code changes

Rosie Simarano looks through window fire sprinkler demonstratitrailer Thursday Fire Safety Consultants Inc. Elgin.  September 27 2012 | Michael

Rosie Simarano looks through the window of a fire sprinkler demonstration trailer Thursday at Fire Safety Consultants, Inc. in Elgin. September 27, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 12, 2012 11:55AM

ELGIN — The city council has moved along adopting updated building and life safety codes along with measures concerning requiring sprinkler systems for residential developments not yet annexed into Elgin.

The lone nay vote at Wednesday’s committee of the whole session was Councilman John Prigge, who said his main concern is “we need to stay out of people’s lives when it comes to how they want to be protected.”

Supporting material for the meeting states, “The majority of the codes being presented for consideration and adoption are building codes. Building codes only apply to new construction, additions, remodeling or changing occupancy classifications. These codes are not retroactive.”

The sprinkler requirements would apply to residential properties not currently annexed to the city at the time of code adoption. Elgin has about 6,100 lots awaiting final engineering plans and another 1,900 lots platted and available for permit approval.

Most of the planned growth is west of Randall Road, and the largest development yet to see a home built is Shodeen’s Pingree Creek. There, 2,387 single-family homes, 342 townhomes and 274 apartments are awaiting final plat approval for a 780-acre site southwest of the village of Pingree Grove.

In construction of new homes and additions to existing homes, Trus Joist I-joists or open web trusses must be placed on 16-inch centers regardless of the span to provide for stronger floors and increase the time that such a floor will hold should there be a fire below it.

Where such trusses are being used and are unprotected, fire sprinklers are required. Where such trusses are used and protected with a layer of half-inch drywall, no fire sprinklers are required. And where conventional dimensional lumber is used in basement areas, no fire sprinklers are required.

Fire sprinkler systems would be required in spaces greater than 5,000 square feet where upholstered furniture or mattresses are sold and in spaces greater than 2,500 square feet where such items are stored. The previous threshold for both spaces was 7,500 square feet. It would apply only to new construction, to an expansion of an existing use above the minimum square footage, to a major remodeling, or where the occupancy of a space changes occupancy groups.

Getting to this point is something city fire officials said has taken more than two years and involved numerous meetings with concerned parties in the home building industry. Those included sessions with the city’s building commissioners and a summit this past spring with Mayor Dave Kaptain at Elgin Community College attend by about five dozen people. The proposals had met with some resistance from builders and developers, primarily due to the cost that sprinkler systems would add to homes.

Fire Chief John Fahy had noted that a typical sprinkler system adds 1.5 to 2.5 percent to the cost of a home. With many of the homes planned in Elgin at one time thought to be in the price range of $400,000 and up, this would mean about $6,000 to $10,000 or so for sprinklers.

According to the National Fire Sprinkler Association, if Elgin approves its sprinkler requirements, it would the 80th Illinois town to have some sort of home sprinkler measures in place. They include Aurora, Burlington, St. Charles and West Dundee. Only two states currently have home sprinkler rules in place — California and Maryland.

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